Heilbronn provided an interlude. Digithurst had a problem – an unusual one that start-ups, especially those growing organically, rarely experience. It was our bank manager who pointed it out. ‘Why,’ he asked, ‘was it necessary to hold so much money in our current account?’ So, we transferred £100,000 to a deposit account, where it then sat doing nothing save accrue interest. We should have spent the money on development, but the plodding IBM PC was proving a technological bottleneck. Its poor-quality graphics and slow processor made it a poor platform for image processing. Also, Digithurst was still only Stephen, Sue and myself, and I hadn’t touched a keyboard for almost a year. So, Heilbronn was both a diversion and, hopefully, a diversification.
Dr Dahlberg, an engineering consultant, had been asked by AEG to find alternative uses for photovoltaic cells it manufactured for the space industry. He came up with a project to cover areas of North Africa with solar farms and harvest the sun’s energy. The electricity produced would be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Liquefied hydrogen would then be shipped to Europe for use as a substitute for oil. Dahlberg deduced the project would not be feasible while oil prices were low and the cost of photovoltaic cells remained above $1 per watt produced.
Stephen and I setup a company called International Photovoltaic Research and set up a project at Imperial College. Dahlberg’s work was reviewed by George Bouziotis, who determined at what price, and output per square metre, a photovoltaic-based energy farm became feasible. AEG also provided us with solar cells to experiment with. In the event, we were unable to dedicate much time to the project. Imperial College completed the feasibility study, which was used belatedly in 2006 as a basis of a report called ‘Farming Renewable Energy’. Since then, Chinese manufacturers have forced down the price of solar cells to the point where large-scale solar farms, as envisaged by Dahlberg, have become both cost-effective and commonplace …
… (An extract from The Ghost in the Labyrinth by Peter Kruger)